The Founding of Wadda Plantation
Pat Gallagher had a vision when he and his young wife Patricia moved from Mission Beach to the mining town of Mount Isa. He wanted to establish a modern large banana enterprise that worked with the environment of tropical north Queensland, not ignore it. That was back in 1955. The road was longer than anyone would have anticipated and took him away from the coast, and family and friends.
Ever since he left school, Pat had had a passion for the land. When he and his wife decided to start the journey. He had a 5 ha. banana plantation near the sea in Mission Beach, a one-person operation that was going well. It wasn’t an easy choice to stop growing for some time while he earned the money for a larger plantation, because cultivating bananas was his passion.
But the vision of growing bananas on the volcanic soils of the gentle slopes in Mission Beach got him outdoors in the morning before the sunrise, while the dew dripped from the leaves of the rainforest trees that flanked the path to the plantation, and stayed with him in the evening.
In 1955, he sold the plantation, took a job with the Mt Isa Mines, and started on a journey towards the new farm. Mining paid well. Pat kept the dream alive by reading the produce prices in the newspapers. Two big strikes and downturns in international demand for silver lead and copper delayed them for several years. Still, these were good years. Their three sons were born in the Isa, and Pat made steady progress in the mine.
In 1967, Pat drove out of Mt Isa on his way back to Innisfail in a Falcon station wagon. With him were Patricia, his three sons, and a blue cattle dog. Along with them they took a tin of sandwiches and the solid savings that they had made. They knew that the savings would not yet buy the farm they really wanted, but they planned to work and develop the farm simultaneously. Initially they bought a medium size block at Bingil Bay. It was not long however before they sold it and bought the Mourilyan hotel to maintain a strong cashflow while they found the right farm.
For five years, they worked tirelessly in the hotel. At the same time, Pat began the search for the right property. He had already narrowed the search to the East Palmerston district. It was a bold move that challenged the assumptions. The district was a cattle producing one; bananas were hardly known there. It was thought that the best spot for bananas was on the Tully River where the industry was emerging from the smaller30 July, 2007 employees. The Department of Primary Industries considered the East Palmerston only suited to cattle because the well-structured soils were too dry in the spring months.
But one quiet Sunday afternoon, Pat drove to Nerada Road accompanied by his real estate agent. The land was well down the road towards the hills of the state forest, and on a bend in the river. On the way, Pat saw what he had been looking for: a substantial creek – Wadda Creek. It rang a bell for him. Pat knew he had seen what he needed for irrigation. When he saw the big flat areas on the other side, he thought “Wadda Creek,. …and Whata Plantation”.
Although the block had not produced bananas, at the back of the shed was a papaya plant – a sure sign that the area was not, as was rumoured, subject to frost. It was 77 ha, and just what he was seeking. He bought it and within a month was planting five acres of bananas with his oldest son, Mike. The family continued running the pub to fund the establishment of the plantation.
Banana production is hard work, but none of the family shrank from the task. Pat is quick to point out “We wouldn’t have succeeded without the effort from Patricia, and the boys’ dedication.
They identified an environmental program, although you didn’t call it that then. As a first priority they fenced the cattle back from the river, and started revegetating areas along it that had been cleared. Grassed interrows to control erosion, contouring and irrigation were innovations that the Gallagher family introduced to banana production on the red soils
All the family wanted to be on the land, so in 1978, they bought another 107 ha. That was the first of several land acquisitions. By 1997, the farm had reached its present size of 850ha.
The famed Nerada Tea had been started on a neighbouring property. When the tea production relocated to more suitable farm, the family took the opportunity to acquire it. The intent was to transfer the tea plantation to banana production and to provide space for crop rotations. There are still very limited areas of tea on the farm, although it isn’t harvested for tea purposes at the present time. The few remaining blocks of tea are harvested for mulch, and in blocks that have been redeveloped for bananas, windbreaks of tea have been retained.
From the first days of Pat’s dream of founding a large banana plantation to the present day, there has been a consistent vision of managing the whole farm for multiple purposes not simply for the production of bananas, but also to enhance the native vegetation and protect the river and the creeks that lead ultimately to the Barrier Reef. Wadda Plantation is about integrating sustainable livelihoods and production systems into the environment, and developing the property to deliver multiple values to the community.